25-year old Susanne Sundfør comes from Haugesund, a small port town on the southwestern Norwegian coast between Stavanger and Bergen. She has become a big star in her native Norway, yet is a relative unknown elsewhere – having listened to her 2010 album ‘The Brothel’, I have a feeling that this is something that is likely to change pretty rapidly.
‘The Brothel‘ is Sundfør’s third album and sees her working with some of the leading movers and shakers of the Norwegian music scene. When I first played the album, the opening minute or so of the title track sounds like an out-take from a Susannah & the Magical Orchestra CD. Not surprising, therefore that S&MO keyboardist Morten Qvenild is one of the musicians in evidence here. Also present are Jaga Jazzist leading lights, brothers Lars and Martin Horntveth, with Lars also producing the album.
The S&MO reference is probably inevitable but ultimately misleading because Sundfør’s music is far more expansive than their studied minimalism and unlike S&MO, she writes all her own material. Helpfully for many of us, she sings in English and whilst the lyrical content is varied and impressionistic, there are deep seams of sensuality running though most of these songs. This is matched by the instrumentation and arrangements. Sundfør embellishes her beautiful, powerful voice and multi-tracked self-harmonising with both guitar and keyboards, but the album also makes impressive use of Lars Horntveth’s multi-instrumentalism and Morten Qvenild’s synth washes, along with a string quartet and trademark bursts of tympani and percussion.
‘The Brothel’ is a great album, and it’s very much a rock album. Sundfør’s influences are not immediately obvious, but would probably include Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Björk as well as classical choral composers such as Palestrina; the latter offering evidence of her classical training.
She has had considerable success in Norway, first achieving fame through live shows at Norwegian festivals, followed by a number of TV appearances on NRK. In 2008, she created further controversy when she won the ‘Spellemannprisen’ ( Think Norwegian ‘Grammy’) for best female performer, but when accepting the award, she remarked “I am first and foremost an artist, and secondly a woman”, a dig at the chauvinism that women performers always have to endure in the course of such events. All of this has made her quite a celebrity in her homeland and the local press have been falling over themselves in praise of ‘The Brothel’. Sundfør won the prize again in 2010 – as ‘Best Popular Composer’ this time. No ‘gender specifics’ to worry about there….
The fact that Sundfør chooses to sing her lyrics in English would suggest that she aspires to reach a much wider audience and ‘The Brothel’ offers compelling evidence that she may well be able to achieve that aim. She has recently completed a European tour supporting singer-songwriter Thomas Dybdahl and will soon surely find people to champion her cause in both the UK and the USA.
You can watch/listen to the video for the title track from ‘The Brothel’ here: